Our lo­cal heroes, stars

Grocott's Mail - - OUTSIDE -

Other Gra­ham­sto­nian in­ven­tors men­tioned in my book, What a Great Idea! Awe­some South African In­ven­tions, in­clude ‘Doc’ Sher­man Har­vey Ri­p­ley, whom I in­ter­viewed in 2016 and who died on 13 June this year. He was born in 1926 in Cedara and, in the mid-1960s at the Med­i­cal School in Dur­ban, de­vel­oped the Ri­p­ley Re­sus­ci­ta­tor, a de­vice that im­proved the ef­fi­ciency of mouth-to-mouth re­sus­ci­ta­tion for drown­ing vic­tims. He found that tra­di­tional CPR (car­dio-pul­monary re­sus­ci­ta­tion) meth­ods in­volve ex­hal­ing into the vic­tim’s mouth, but this is in­ef­fi­cient as ex­haled breath con­tains less oxy­gen and more car­bon diox­ide than in­haled breath.

Ri­p­ley equipped life-savers with small oxy­gen bot­tles con­nected to den­tal masks, which al­lowed them to breathe oxy­gen in through their noses and ex­hale it into the vic­tim’s mouth. His in­ven­tion led to the de­vel­op­ment of other oxy­ge­nen­hanced CPR tech­niques in Canada, the USA, Scan­di­navia and Aus­tralia. Ri­p­ley also de­vel­oped tiny plas­tic bal­loons that could be in­serted into the brain, blood ves­sels, ure­thra or anus to al­low sur­geons to carry out re­pairs to dam­aged in­ter­nal or­gans.

Of course the su­per­star of South African sci­ence is Gra­ham­stown’s Pro­fes­sor Te­bello Nyokong, who joined the staff of Rhodes Univer­sity in 1992, where she is now a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor. She is best known for her re­search on nan­otech­nol­ogy and pho­to­dy­namic ther­apy, with the lat­ter paving the way for safer can­cer de­tec­tion and treat­ment with­out the de­bil­i­tat­ing side ef­fects of chemo­ther­apy. She is a re­cip­i­ent of the Order of Ma­pun­gubwe (Bronze) and was named as one of the top 10 most in­flu­en­tial women in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy in Africa by IT News Africa. In 2013 she was awarded the Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion’s Life­time Achieve­ment Award.

Gra­ham­sto­ni­ans have also made im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions in the field of sus­tain­able liv­ing. The late Brian la Trobe was ar­guably the only mayor in the world who held com­mu­nity braais on the city rub­bish dump us­ing methane gas and was also an in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected ‘drain brain’.

He in­vented the En­viro-Loo in 1993, a wa­ter­less toi­let sys­tem made from UV-treated poly­eth­yl­ene with a ce­ramic bowl but no in­ter­nal mov­ing parts. It does not need chem­i­cals or elec­tric­ity to func­tion as it uses so­lar and wind en­ergy, and can be set up any­where. The ELoo is used in many coun­tries where wa­ter is scarce and has been cred­ited with re­duc­ing the in­ci­dence of wa­ter­borne dis­eases, such as cholera and dysen­tery.

Nikki Köhly, Rhodes Univer­sity’s Safety, Health & En­vi­ron­ment Of­fi­cer, re­ally ‘walks her talk’ as her home and gar­den are a model of sus­tain­able liv­ing. She re­cy­cles wa­ter us­ing Jeremy Tay­lor’s Wa­ter Rhap­sody sys­tem so that waste wa­ter from her wash­ing ma­chine is used to flush the toi­lets, and has in­stalled a wa­ter­less SANIX toi­let in an out­side room. Grey wa­ter from the bath­room is redi­rected into a soak pit that feeds a banana plan­ta­tion.

Rain wa­ter is har­vested off the roof into JoJo tanks and is piped, us­ing a so­lar pump, to a header tank from which wa­ter is grav­ity-fed into her wa­ter-retic­u­la­tion sys­tem. For the past six years she has been in­de­pen­dent of the mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter sup­ply, although she has re­tained a con­nec­tion in case of emer­gency. All her wa­ter heat­ing is so­lar us­ing low pres­sure gey­sers (which also saves wa­ter), with a back-up elec­tri­cal el­e­ment in case of ex­tended in­clement weather. She uses a ‘Wa­ter Well’ lay­ered fil­ter sys­tem with ce­ramic dome, car­bon fil­ter and min­eral stones to pu­rify and add es­sen­tial min­er­als to her drink­ing wa­ter, and all or­ganic waste from the kitchen is com­posted in com­post­ing bins and ‘red wig­gler’ worm farms.

Even JLB Smith cracks a men­tion. Dur­ing his ten­ure at Rhodes as a Lec­turer in Chem­istry he de­vised sev­eral in­no­va­tive an­a­lyt­i­cal tech­niques in or­ganic chem­istry that were widely used un­til they were re­placed by more mod­ern meth­ods. He also ex­er­cised his an­a­lyt­i­cal mind by de­vis­ing a key to iden­tify fishes that is used through­out the world. The key uses a for­mula based on the num­ber of hard spines and soft rays in the fins com­bined with a lat­eral line scale count and gill-raker count. In case you catch a coela­canth on your next fish­ing trip, and need to con­firm its ID, its for­mula is: D VII + 30; A 27-31; P 29-32; V 29-33; C 25 + 38 + 21; LL 76-82 + 15-23!

Talk­ing about the coela­canth, the first craft beer brewed in South Africa, by Mitchell’s Brew­ery in Knysna, was called ‘Old Four Legs’.

The Feath­er­stone Brew­ery in Gra­ham­stown has con­tin­ued this fine tra­di­tion by pro­duc­ing ‘Olden­bur­gia Weiss’, named af­ter the an­cient moun­tain hunch­back plant, Olden­bur­gia gran­dis, that is en­demic to the Eastern Cape. • Mike Bru­ton is a re­tired sci­en­tist and a busy writer; mike­fish­es­bru­ton@gmail.com

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